4.7 million people work from home in the United States [source]. The need for collaboration and meeting with co-workers does not go away when people transition to working from home, so it is no surprise that products like Zoom Meeting have realized huge growth.
The recent Coronavirus spread is creating challenges for sales teams that did not need to make this transition to meeting virtually until now. My anticipation is that the number of people that work from home will be drastically increased for the long-term once we get back to normal.
Virtual or not, We have all been in our share of meetings that were good, productive meetings and others that were a waste of time for all involved. So, ensuring that you can effectively conduct a meeting is critical in business continuity during these times.
The 3 keys to having quality virtual meetings are:
- Use of tools and technologies
- Engagement techniques
Here are some helpful tips for each of the three areas:
Failing to plan is planning to fail. The nature of virtual meetings makes planning even more important. Here are some specific things you can do to plan for a fantastic meeting:
- Prepare an agenda, and stick to it: Your agenda should include items that you would be able to cover given the time allotted. Send the agenda out to all participants prior. One good practice is to present each topic as a question. If the topic does not answer a question, then you may want to consider the relevance of the topic.
- Prepare questions: More on engagement later, but the last thing virtual meeting participants want is a lecture. Asking the right questions in a meeting promotes healthy thinking. Asking the low-value questions compromises the integrity of the message. Prepare high-value questions that generate thought and support the intended message.
- Prepare your environment: Prepare your background. Ensure it is professional, yet has a bit of character in it as well. Arrive early so that you are able to test out all technology and be there when participants arrive to set the tone and ensure they use a camera if at all possible. Ensure you are dressed appropriately and positioned properly in front of your camera such that you are close enough to be seen.
- Plan meeting key points and takeaways: For all topics, ensure you are ready to summarize the main points and any follow up items from the meeting. You will likely add to the list during the meeting as well if you succeed in creating an engaging environment.
Use of tools and technology
Improper use of tools and technology can derail any meeting regardless of how prepared you are with your message. Specifically:
- Use a video conferencing platform like Zoom: We have conducted meetings virtually with screen-sharing tools for some time, but our transition to using Zoom a couple of years ago was a complete game-changer for our meetings. Zoom makes balancing video conferencing and content sharing easy and, unlike previous applications that we used, does so reliably
- Use webcams: Most people have a webcam integrated into their computers. Use it! If a picture tells a thousand words, video conferencing tells a million. Seeing the faces of participants eliminates the biggest challenge with remote meetings
- Presentation Software: Many use PowerPoint, we use the Google Apps suite. Highly designed animation can actually be a bit distracting, so this shouldn’t take too much time. Regardless of what you use, ensure you have bullets and visuals as needed to support your message. When you use text, use short snippets of big ideas, and don’t use too much text as you want to deliver the message with your voice.
When I was in college, my Astronomy class (we had to take a lab science!) was a lecture with a couple of hundred students. My literature classes were a lot smaller, which made it a lot easier to create an engaging environment.
There are many ways that you can create an engaging meeting to increase its effectiveness:
- Proper use of questions: Leveraging different types of questions can be very effective in increasing engagement. Here is a blog that talks to different types of questions. Overhead questions are put out there for anyone to answer and can be challenging to control the group when it is a question that a lot have opinions on. It is also not great when you hear crickets after you ask an overhead question. Direct questions, relay questions, and reverse questions are great in getting your participants to engage.
- As participants to share ideas or even present a module: Sending out the agenda prior and asking participants to do some homework prior is a great way to get folks prepared to share ideas. If appropriate, delegate topics to others to lead.
- Use chat, polls, or other tools in your video conferencing platform: Using different tools effectively keeps people engaged. If you can find a good use for a poll in your content, use it! Chat is a great way to gather insight from participants as an alternative to asking overhead questions. The # of participants in the meeting helps you evaluate which might be most effective. Larger meetings may require you to use a “Listen Only” feature and enable users to interact with chat.
Ensuring you are able to facilitate virtual meetings effectively can minimize the impact of our new reality. Put these things into practice to minimize the disruption to your business.